Brazilian psychedelia, Taiwanese disco, Israeli “emotive techno,” lost new wave …. DJ mixes from the last year or so that deserve to be heard.
By Marke B.
ALL EARS This year, I stepped out as a professional DJ for the first time in who knows when — and it was hard! But totally worth it. (Hopefully to dancers as well). Playing records you love to a crowded floor is a great feeling, so kudos to the people who do it for life. The fact that there are all kinds of shiny apps out there to make it easier paradoxically forces the real DJ talents to up their game, whether in the rarity, quality, and/or intelligence of their selections, their “brand” identity and cohesiveness, or just their ballsy joy in the belief that they can pull off something as dicey as making a sea of strangers fall in love. Really you need all those elements to make it happen — if anything, 2014 has taught us how many empty “brands” there are out there when it comes to taking to the decks.
Anyway, digressions. There’s such a sheer overload of mixes out there that there’s no way I’m going to decide what was “best” from 2014, which depends upon being able to hear and weigh everything out there. The mixes below are the ones that fascinated me and opened new worlds in my earbuds. They span all kinds of genres and come from everywhere. They’re ones I’ll take with me into the brand new year, fresh with wonder at what I’ll hear next.
A note: Almost all of the DJs below played live here in the last year, which is both a tribute to our fantastic dance scene, and essential proof that going out almost every night is totally worth it 😉
>>> DAVID MORALES, “A TRIBUTE TO FRANKIE KNUCKLES”
What can you say when the beloved founder of house music suddenly passes away? When Frankie left us in March, right before he was scheduled to play here at Mighty, most of us were speechless. But the DJ community soon poured its heart out, with mixes from almost every DJ legend under the sun tugging at our heartstrings and pulling us to the dance floor: Dmitri from Paris, Satoshi Tomiie, Tedd Patterson — hell, all of frickin’ Chicago — offered tributes to the smooth, soulful, deep sounds of Frankie’s work. David Morales was Frankie’s best friend behind the decks, and he gave us a lovely mix that celebrated Frankie’s sound while teaching a new generation about the silkier side of house, the brilliance of old school production, and how many tracks can work on a dance floor in ways you’d never expect.
>>> DJ GUAJE, “HOW DO YOU LIKE BRAZILIAN GROOVES?”
These three mixes were recorded in 2013-14 for the “El Desván del Guaje” radio show, Radio Nava, Asturias, Spain. DJ Gabino Diaz (Guaje) and producer Mario López channeled their deep love and respect for Brazilian music from the 20th century into an incredible anthology ranging from the fascinating Movimiento Negro through maracatu, baião, and many other wonderful genres. It’s the very definition of ear-opening. Put on all three of these, have some people over, and throw the coolest brunch/listening party/afternoon dance affair ever.
>>> GUILLAUME AND THE COUTU DUMONTS, “NYE 2014 AT WATERGATE, BERLIN”
No other mix this year brought me more sheer dancing pleasure and broken dishes — note to self: stop listening while washing up — than this one, which kicked off the year with a bang. Guillaume (there really are no Coutu Dumonts — it’s a play on his last name) has been in the game for almost decade, and he keeps getting better. His hybrid sets mix live percussion and effects with ace house records, most of them produced by himself. Atop the irresistible grooves, he’ll drop an entire beat poem, or, hey, switch into a full cosmic jazz cut or heady disco loop. It all coheres beautifully and works perfect live (as attendees of the three-day Sunset Campout 2014 discovered). This mix from one of Berlin’s great nightclubs exactly a year ago shows his funky principles in action.
>>> ROBERT YANG AKA BEZIER, “NATIVE LOVER”
In 2013 and 2014, Honey Soundsystem member and analogue electronic composer Robert Yang, aka DJ Robot Hustle, aka Bezier, went on two record collecting odysseys to “Asian Tigers” Hong Kong, Singapore, and Taiwan. He was looking for records of the type he had heard about from a friend and fellow DJ, Spaziale: Asian psychedelic funk, disco, and “songs about freedom and love” from 1977-1984. The story of his search for those records is incredible, as is the mix that resulted, which debuted April 8 on Tim Sweeney’s invaluable Beats in Space radio program. I love this so much.
>>> JOSH CHEON, “DARK ENTRIES FIVE-YEAR ANNIVERSARY MIX”
For five years, Honey Soundsystem member Josh Cheon has been scouring the world for “forgotten” synth pop, industrial, and darkwave tracks from the late ’70s and ’80s, connecting with the makers to tell their story, and releasing the music on his indispensable Dark Entries Records label. His dive into the lost world of international cassette culture and “minimal wave” scenes is more than a mere nostalgia trip. Dark Entries has also been releasing records from contemporary artists who continue the sounds and ethos of that lost era. This five-year anniversary mix will take you back to those throbbing post-punk basements of yore. Get your Aquanet and torn fishnets ready.
>>> GUY J, “SUMMER MOMENTS MIX”
I don’t know exactly what about this mix, or Israeli “emotive techno” DJ Guy J‘s fabulously polished output in general, grabbed me so much this year. The inhumanly seamless mixing, the absolutely lovely soundscapes, the way the beat sneaks up behind you and suddenly grabs your feet: maybe. The unapologetic emotional manipulation that wouldn’t be out of place in a 3D multiplex: possibly. The complete absence of the tired buildup/breakdown formula (unless you count the entire mix as one huge buildup until you breakdown) in a mix like this, aimed for the arenas: sure. The pleasure of uninterrupted gorgeousness in an atmosphere of general political and social discord: definitely. In any case, I couldn’t stop listening.
>>> THE BLACK MADONNA, “BEATS IN SPACE #745”
It was a breakout year for this Chicago stalwart, Smart Bar programmer, old school raver, and all-around awesome person (full disclosure: I love her). She was everywhere you looked, from Berlin’s Panoramabar on her birthday to the incredible Folsom Street Fair party Deviants, where she shared a stage with legendary Hi-NRG singer Paul Parker. She calls what she plays disco, and in the sense that her music brings people of all backgrounds together on a dance floor to vibe with love, respect, and sweat that’s certainly true. But her selections, including her own compositions, draw from all subgenres of house, techno, and more to create a unique imprint. Mostly what I think when I listen to her is, “Damn, where the eff did this record come from???” She also didn’t hold back on using her newfound platform to speak out about events like Ferguson and gender inequality, which was incredibly refreshing in the frustratingly buttoned-up professional dance scene. It’s OK to be conscious, DJs.
>>> NU, “FOUR SEASON ALBUM”
Nomadic Berlin DJ NU operates in in a beauty-drenched realm where chill-out ambient, early trip-hop, worldbeat, and (non-embarrassing) New Age meet and pour each other a cup of mushroom tea. These are less DJ mixes than immersive environments set to catchy beats. Clocking in at more than three hours each, they’re also quite epic. I love putting them on when its raining, smoking a bowl, and writing about things I like. They also work great for getting up, watching the sun rise with an awesome cup of coffee, and pretending you’re preparing yourself for a yearlong trip around the world. Let’s just do that.
>>> MIKE SERVITO, “NO WAY BACK, MOVEMENT”
Acid house continued its huge comeback this year. Two of our best DJs found great success riding the late ’80s underground Chicago-London revival wave: J.Phlip closed out Detroit’s Movement festival with a bonkers set and Chris Orr’s “Acid Era” mix got picked up by DFA Records and exploded on the Web. Detroiter-turned-NYC-phenom Mike Servito showed his deep love of the genre by pulling off a perfect vinyl acid-tinged set at Movement satellite party No Way Back, complete with a well-timed record skip right in the middle of “The Perculator” for goddess’s sake. (A Soundcloud commenter summed it up exactly: “Dat vinyl feel.”) My hands are pretty much in the air through this whole mix. Sidebar: A mix by a gay Detroiter of color being named “Top Online Mix” by techno site of record Resident Advisor broke through several glass ceilings, smashy smashy.
>>> DJ CHEEBA, MONEYSHOT, AND DJ FOOD, “PAUL’S BOUTIQUE REIMAGINED”
2014 marked the 25th anniversary (ouch) of the Beastie Boys’ sprawling, seminal hip-hop double album Paul’s Boutique — RIP MCA — and heady label Ninja Tune let some of its trippiest best loose on the album in celebration. Cheeba, Moneyshot, and Food basically flipped the Paul’s Boutique script, foregrounding the songs the Beasties excellently pilfered, and weaving in snippets of the exuberantly snide rappers’ raps and raw outtakes, including “director’s cut narration”-type overdubs. It’s like the opposite of a hip-hop mixtape (or a reclamation of the word “mixtape,” which after all is a mix of records). Beyond being a landmark of psychedelic, sampladelic hip-hop, Paul’s Boutique is also a landmark of sampling litigation. This warped, incredible, exhausting joyride of a mix thumbs its nose at all that and reaffirms that not only did the Beastie Boys have impeccable taste, they also introduced many of us to this music in the first place.
>>> ACID ARAB, “CLIMAT MIX”
Acid Arab are two cute guys from France who marry traditional music from Arabian cultures to contemporary beats — and often, because Arab dance music is incredibly alive and prodigious, give tracks by contemporary Arabic DJs a broader platform. Playing Arab-derived music in France is still a big political statement, and the Acid Arab project, now on its 13th mix album, could continue to delight and subvert with wonderfully accessible mixes like this one and this one, guiding people on a journey through classic Arab electronic pop and fulfilling their worldbeat dreams. But this mix, recorded as a promo for Paris’s Climat club was something else entirely. Fusing dark dub techno to Arabic elements, it came out as something so monumental and otherworldly that I can only imagine it would mow entire dance floors down with actual shock and awe.
>>> DISCODROMO, “GOLDEN PLEASURES 009”
If you need any more proof of how far “gay club music” has come in destroying its screaming-diva stereotypes and opening a deep, organic, completely sexy space using early disco and underground house and techno building blocks — well, this great mix from Discodromo, the Italian duo behind Berlin’s best gay club/label Cocktail d’Amore, is here for the rethink. It opens with an extended funky guitar vamp before leading us down several surprising backroom paths, without ever sacrificing its deep groove. You may end up with your shirt off at the end of it, but no queens shrieking in your face about how they can’t remember where they parked their Miata.
>>> ALEX SMOKE, “RSMIX005”
Mindwarping ambient-classical-dystopian-ecstatic exquisiteness from the cheeky-smart young Scottish master, that renews the original promise of electronic music to call otherworldly landscapes into being.
>>> MR. SCORPIO, “DETROIT OLD SCHOOL AND MORE”
Sometimes a “mix” is really just a great collection of great songs you probably have never heard before. Yes, this mix from Detroit DJ Mr. Scorpio of the House Fire program on Space Invaders Radio is more than two years old, but it opens such a cosmic wormhole in the aural universe that I think all time and rigors have dissolved, so there. According to Scorpio, a mysterious “friend” delivered him the the entire track list, so he eschewed his usual house/hip-hop sets to bring forth this epic trip through very old school soul and r&b. It sounds absolutely fantastic.
>>> ALEXI DELANO, “AUTOPILOT 04.04.2014 CLUB CHARLOTTE”
And then sometimes you just need some good ol’ brain-‘sploding techno, broadcast from some giant sweaty club in Münster by a longtime practitioner of the art of melting dance floors with vivacity and aplomb, why not. Happy New Year.
>>> BONUS: Here’s one you just have to watch (or not), sorry. I love techno.
All Ears is Marke B.’s music column on 48 hills. This entry was published on January 2, 2015.